CHAMPAIGN — During any shooting slump, once a player sees the ball go through the net a few times, things fall into place.
The same could be said for a losing streak. Once a team notches a win, things can get back on track — if only for a second. The Illinois men's basketball team has the perfect chance to bust its four-game slump at 1 p.m. Sunday against Mississippi Valley State.
“Guys can't wait to get out there. We know we have to get back on the right track and we know we have a lot to fix in-house," senior Aaron Jordan said. "When we do that, guys are just hungry to play again."
Illinois (1-4) had No. 3 Gonzaga on the ropes in the opening round of the Maui Invitational before the Bulldogs escaped with a victory before going on to win the invitational with a win over No. 1 Duke. Gonzaga will likely move to No. 1 in the country.
But they followed it up with a 16-point loss to Iowa State and a nine-point loss to Xavier to end the tourney.
“I thought Maui was kind of what I thought it would be," Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said. "You find out who we are and we did it against three really, really good teams. I thought there were some positives. Offensively, in the halfcourt, our (offensive efficiency rating) was off the charts. When we moved and shared the ball, we were great. It was off the chart in the first two games, especially."
If there were any golden opportunity to win it would be against the Delta Devils (1-5) of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. To do that, Underwood wants to see the Illini fix what leaks were exposed in Maui.
“We saw some areas we’ve got to improve on," Underwood said. "We have to guard the basketball better. It gets down to we have to have some pride there. We spend a lot of time in practice, you wouldn’t know that, on rebounding the basketball."
An improvement in rebounding, though, doesn't involve Jordan, who Underwood said was the player of the tournament on the Illini and was the lone player to rebound effectively. Underwood wants to see more rebounding from Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Adonis De La Rosa and his guards.
Illinois needs to finish games more effectively. After a frantic second-half effort, which was led by sophomore guard Trent Frazier, against Gonzaga, the Illini fizzled in the second half in each of the final two games.
The Illini led Iowa State 39-36 at halftime before getting outscored 50-29 in the second half. Xavier led Illinois 43-41 at halftime before a 40-33 second-half advantage held the Illini at bay.
“I feel like we were in the game each and every game until the second half," freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu said. "We have to figure out a better way to close the games. I feel like we had a great shot to beat all three of the good teams we played against."
Things ramp back up after Mississippi Valley State. Illinois travels to Notre Dame on Tuesday, then to Nebraska before going to Chicago to play Ohio State at the United Center and hosting UNLV on Dec. 8.
Count Maui as a place where lessons were learned.
“You find out where you’re at," Underwood said. "We did that against the best team in the country and had a chance to beat them. We did really good things in both the games (after), but we found out who we are and what we have to work on. Instead of playing some teams and winning and not having to deal with adversity and not having to deal with high-level basketball, now we know.
"We can continue to move forward and get better. All in all, I thought there was some growth. I thought there were some areas; toughness, obviously guarding the ball and sustaining maximum effort for 40 minutes were something we didn’t do the last two nights and we have to grow there."